The Goodness in Others; the Goodness in Me

Suzette and EliTwo years ago this month I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer – and started on a dark journey of hospitals, needles, chemotherapy, nausea, and pain.  I have been reflecting on this time as I pass the anniversary. The thing that stands out the most is how much goodness I saw in others as I struggled through.  It was remarkable to me at the time and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The people I knew well (close friends and family) banded together to form a shelter, so that I rarely worried about my next meal, a ride to the hospital, being alone, or even doing laundry.  My people were beyond generous with their time and resources – and I feel grateful for that every day.

But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers.  Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment.  I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind:  cancer.  Many people approached me to wish me well and give me their prayers.  Waiters and store clerks often discounted items; others (strangers to me) picked up my tab.  Women let me go ahead of them in bathroom lines, teenagers carried my bags, and taxi drivers dismissed charges.  It was astonishing – and wonderful.  I can only imagine that they did these things because they saw “one among them” who was obviously struggling and going through a difficult time.  It was heartening.  I will forever believe in the goodness of humankind because of this experience.

Read More

Meet Me at the Tree

5874469701_ce20331570_b

Tree of Life by Lukey

 

 

I pressed forward in line heading for the sacred grounds of the temple while angry anti-Mormon protesters shouted hateful words, and church members fresh out of the Saturday afternoon session of conference honked and shouted hateful things.  It was like something out of a dream.  In fact, it felt much like a dream I had spent my whole youth learning about, never fully understanding.

I used to understand Lehi’s dream of the tree of life to be about the church vs. the world.  We as members of the church hold onto the word of God and press forward toward the tree of life and its delicious fruit, the love of God, while people outside the church mock us from the great and spacious building.  Never did I think that as I pressed forward, holding onto what I feel very strongly is the word of God, that I would be mocked by members of my own church.  Like Lehi, I have tasted a fruit “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.”  It is a fruit that represents our Heavenly Parent’s love for all their children, and their desire for us to truly be equal.  But when I turned back to tell others about this fruit, they did not want to join me in partaking of it.  Some, instead of coming to the tree with me have mocked and ridiculed me for doing so.  This pointing fingers and derisive mocking has become intolerable over the last few months.

As a member of Ordain Women I can’t say that I have always remained at the tree of life either during this journey.  I came to Ordain Women because of some powerful spiritual experiences that left me with a greater capacity to love and to understand God’s love.  But, just like the people in Lehi’s dream, I have had moments when I cast my eyes about and wandered away from that love to a great and spacious building where I didn’t intend to understand the person I was contending with. We are all prone to have moments when we are partaking of the love of God and other moments when we are the ones in the great and spacious building, mocking others who are partaking of the love of God in their way.  It’s not black and white.  It’s not church members vs. the world.  As a church, we do not hold a monopoly on the tree of life and we are not immune from the great and spacious building.

The thing I find most tragic is those who wander the pathways lost and alone, all because the mocking of others caused them to doubt that the fruit they were tasting was really good.  Instead of judging others and causing them to second-guess and lose their way, I think we need to carefully consider at all times, where we are on the spectrum of Lehi’s dream.  Are we partaking of the love of God, or are we being critical of someone we disagree with because we can’t see things from her perspective?  As a member of Ordain Women, I have experienced a lot of loss and pain from those who chose to remain above me and criticize, mock, shun, call me to repentance and judge me from a place where they couldn’t see or understand my heart.  But I have also been blessed with friends and family who have met me at the tree of life and said, I don’t fully understand, but I love you and I am trying to understand.  It is the love and support from these friends that keeps me rooted at the tree of life instead of falling away into dark paths or joining the critics in the great and spacious building with negativity and angry words.

The reason the great and spacious building is up in the air, far from the tree of life, is that misunderstanding is easier to achieve from a distance.  It is easy to criticize and point fingers when we can’t even see the fruit that someone is tasting.  That’s when it is time to come down and share in God’s love with those we don’t understand.  Nephi was told by the angel that the tree of life represented the condescension of God.  Christ came down among us.  He descended below everything and experienced everything so that he could understand us perfectly and love us perfectly.  He had to come to where we are at and experience what we experience before he could gain that perfect love.  That is the condescension of God and that is the love represented by the tree of life.  If we follow his example, then we must also come down from our floating buildings that make us think we are above others.  We have to come down to a level where we can fully understand others, just as Christ did.  I don’t think this means that we all have to agree on everything.  But we do have to do our best to fully understand each other without judgment.  We have to let go of our need to be right or to be better, in order to love.

So to my fellow Mormon feminists who have tasted of the same precious fruit I have, I know that the last few months have been rough.  I don’t know about you, but it has been hard for me to remain at the tree.  I have found myself wandering up to the great and spacious building or becoming lost in the dark paths.  Let’s meet back at the tree and partake of that great love that once consumed us.  And to my fellow Mormon sisters and brothers, please meet us there.  Even if we disagree, it’s better to do so together at the tree of life. I still have a great desire to share with other members of the church, the precious fruit of divine love that I have found in the concept of female ordination and in agitating for it through Ordain Women.  At the very least, I hope we can stand together at the tree of life and share in the fruits of love, instead of pointing fingers from a place where understanding isn’t possible.  In choosing to meet at the tree of life, we are choosing to love, even if we disagree.

Read More

Created in Their Image

Soon after graduating from BYU and leaving Utah, I left for a study abroad in Denmark, hence my prolonged absence from the comment section (I took Danish for two years at BYU and since being in Denmark, my Danish has become–– according to the locals–– better than the majority of missionaries there and those who’ve lived in the country for several years, almost equivalent to a native speaker, American accent notwithstanding). So far, I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ll be here for close to another four weeks. It is the most magical land and I am close to burning my American passport and living secretly in what is now my favorite country.

During the study abroad, our group has also organized trips to other countries, including Sweden and Germany. And just recently, I returned from a trip in Oslo, Norway. Oslo is a modern city and home to the friendliest people. Oslo is also home to Frogner Park that houses the Vigeland Installation by Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures there are magnificence and worth a trip out to Frogner. Not only for their aesthetic and unique nature of the statues (they are all nude), but for the thoughts and intellectual stimulation they provoke.

IMG_1739

Each of the sculptures in the Vigeland Installation were nude and anatomically correct and full figured. As members of the LDS Church, we are programmed to treat nudity and nakedness as “other”, taboo, or strange. In other words, unacceptable. So to be confronted with this public display of artistic nudity instilled in me the question of vulnerability. It made me question why we as Latter-day Saints afraid of the naked human form. I saw nothing offensive. Is it because of the vulnerability and insecurity it rouses in us? As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, nudity does sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable and insecure. So it was refreshing and challenging to have the park confront me with what is naturally uncomfortable and taboo for most others, and sometimes myself. We believe that our bodies are holy temples, created in the image of the most power Being in the universe. How did we go to being uncomfortable with it?

image

My body was, indeed, created in the image of my Heavenly Parents, so it’s sad that sometimes myself and others feel uncomfortable with it. I am learning to be empowered by my body–– something I once believe was disgusting and broken because of the abuse in my past. I am trying to love all my imperfections and curves and embrace normal sexuality. But lessons in church teach us that we must control our bodies in every form and function. We must cover up. We must be modest. We must not express the fulness of our sexuality. We are merely aesthetically pleasing objects. In the same breath, we teach that our bodies must be hidden and are shameful while simultaneously saying that our bodies are holy and to be embraced.

It is confusing and unhealthy.

Our bodies are modeled after Gods. And we are ashamed of that?

We are created in Their image.

Embrace it. Love it.

Read More

Comfort Box: The 72 Hour Kit that will save you from becoming a zombie.

 

readyforzombies

Am I prepared? Anytime I am watching a zombie apocalypse roll forth on television I question if my emergency preparedness supplies are sufficient. Would I survive or become a zombie? The ward emergency preparedness guy hides from me the week after an especially violent episode of The Walking Dead. To be fair, he has already helpfully referred me to the CDC guide to surviving zombies.

I don’t have any life experience in surviving disasters of the natural or zombie variety, but another kind of disaster rolls through my life routinely. Emotional earthquakes, fire, tsunami, tornado, or sometimes (on a slow news day) a muddy puddle are enough to knock me out. I am regularly afflicted with unwanted feelings of depression, anger, loneliness, betrayal, sadness, boredom, jealousy, or confusion.  Some days I have no idea what I am feeling. I only know that bad stuff happens and keeps happening. Too often the tornado sets me down in my own emotional zombie apocalypse.

When faced with emotional disaster, my first response is to become a zombie. I was raised in a home without healthy models of how to express and positively cope with challenging emotions. My inclination is to eat my feelings while numbing out on a binge read or a mindless Facebook game. As I compare my response to family traditions of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, or child abuse; being an emotional zombie doesn’t seem so bad. Unfortunately, the zombie life fails to bring me lasting relief and harms my health through impaired sleep and weight gain. The unwanted feelings remain and eventually demand attention. These are the times when I turn to my emotional 72 Hour Kit: The Comfort Box.

How prepared are you for the next emotional tsunami? Will you become a zombie? Read on to learn how you can get your very own Comfort Box!

Read More

Finding Our Voice

(I started writing this post a few weeks ago, before word came about the upcoming disciplinary hearings for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. But I think it still applies now, maybe even more so. Also, thanks to April for her post on Sunday (http://www.the-exponent.com/will-we-be-silenced-again/); it gave a lot of people a lot of courage, including me.)

Recently I was talking to one of my friends about a frustration I had. She stopped me at one point and said, “Goodness, Jess, there is no reason to sound so angry.” The statement didn’t really register with me at the time, but later as I was thinking about our conversation, it made me…well, it made me angry that she had said that. I did have a reason to be angry. Why should I not sound the way I felt? It made me feel like my voice was unacceptable, like how I was talking was more important than what I was saying. Somehow my tone illegitimated my experience, even though the feelings behind that tone were legitimate. In a way, and without even meaning to, my friend took away my voice.

Read More

Empathy

group hug II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I was thinking about what I wanted my first post as a perma to be about, I decided to talk about what I know. I’m a developmental psychologist and spend a lot of time thinking about how my academic work interfaces with my ‘faith work.’

Lately I’ve been doing some work on moral development. There are three main theoretical approaches people take when talking about the development of morality: evolutionary, socialization, and cognitive. Most of my work falls in the cognitive camp, but I’ve been thinking a lot about evolutionary psych approaches lately. These theorists tend to focus mainly on moral emotions (things like shame, guilt, remorse, compassion, sympathy, and empathy). Empathy is probably the most studied and least understood of any of these. There is some disagreement about how to even define it, but as far as I’ve been able to untangle it, empathy is an emotional response where an individual experiences or mirrors the (usually negative) emotion that another individual is experiencing. Empathy can develop in to either sympathy, which is feeling for someone, or personal distress, which reflects an inability to separate your emotional distress from the other person who is actually in distress. Either way, empathy is the starting point.

It’s sort of amazing; the ability to have empathy is present in extremely young children. Contagious crying (where a baby starts crying when they hear another baby crying) has been observed in infants as young as 6 hours old, as well as in every sacrament meeting ever. Even more amazing is that infants show more distress at the cries of others than in response to recordings of their own cries.

Read More